Saturday, 13 April 2013

Can atheism replace faith?

Let’s just get it out of the way that atheism means the lack of belief in God, or even as I would argue, an active rejection of God. However, that’s about as meaningful as saying Christianity is about following Christ, Judaism about following the laws of the Torah, or Scientology about being off-the-wall crazy.

Once you strip away your need to ascribe existence and purpose in life to a higher power, you inevitably begin looking for these answers elsewhere. Atheism does not necessarily proscribe this for you, but it’s not uncommon to find a sense of meaning in your own life through an appreciation for humanity, the universe and even science itself.

There’s a reason why if you visit an online community of atheists, you will frequently see references to Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and so on. On this very blog, if you look to your right you will see an entire playlist made by Symphony of Science, which is a fantastic remix that pays homage to these famous scientists and many, many more.

And what about that sense of spiritual connectedness so often described like it’s a drug? Can atheists have that, too?

Yes, I believe they can. Consider this:

You are an individual human among 7 billion others on a pale blue dot in the middle of a sea of stars called the Milky Way Galaxy. Our galaxy, in turn, is only one of hundreds billions of other galaxies, each coming together to create the filaments and structure of the universe. And yet, of all the matter in the entire observable universe, it only accounts for a tiny per cent of everything that exists.

Even at the smallest scales, almost the entire volume of an atom, for example, is completely empty. And we can look down on seemingly impossible scales, many orders of magnitude smaller than the elements that compose us, and keep digging deeper.

Yet, at one point 13.8 billion years ago, all of this – everything that exists – was condensed down to a size even smaller than the smallest scale we can currently imagine.

If you consider yourself an atheist, and also happen to have an appreciation for science and an interest in understanding reality (and, if you’re the former, I daresay you’re likely also the latter), then I defy you to click the graphic below and not be met with a sense of wonder and awe.

In the same way that religious individuals come together, profess belief in certain shared ideas, promote and enhance that sense of wonder – so too can atheists. And as much as many argue that this doesn’t happen, it absolutely does. Again, just take a look at any community of atheists in the world and see what they do.

What you will not find is a bunch of atheists in a room murmuring about how much belief in God doesn’t matter in their life. Rather, what you will find is people talking, laughing, enjoying themselves and trying to make sense of the very complex world that we find ourselves in.

My point is and has always been that religion is a purely human-made construct. If this is true, then atheists are not immune from the same sort of hard-wiring that promotes the kind of “poetry of belief” that is common in religion.

And nor should we be.

The fact that the universe is wonderful, that the methodology of science has offered us new windows through which to understand it, and that we can sit here and actually talk about these things is a fantastic and wonderful thing!

We may simply be specks on a pale blue dot, but our ability to comprehend and enjoy the world is anything but insignificant.


  1. Even as an atheist I wish I had a better grasp and understanding of scientific intricacies and processes than I currently do. I'm a huge fan of programs like NOVA and Horizon, I also love many of Dawkins's and Hitchens' books.

    I'm just not a scientist I guess, but I get it: I know enough to dismantle superstitious BS but not enough to be a genuine 'expert'

    BTW, nice use of The Scale of the Universe. I came across it a long time ago and I think it's brilliant.

  2. Being an advocate for science is an art, and a much-needed one, in my opinion.

    The fact of the matter is, at the end of the day, I don't even care that much about religion. If people have a genuine interest in the facts, and understand and apply the methods of science in their everyday life (by which I only mean looking critically at the information, striving to distinguish credible from non-credible sources, and letting the evidence, rather than the hypothesis, be one's guide), then I can happily sleep at night.

    Though, I do also believe that when we do these things, religion inevitably loses its grip on humanity. But that's mostly a secondary objective for me.

    Thanks for your comment, Egodram!